Taiwan makes H5N1 vaccine free for high-risk individuals

The Taiwan Centers for Disease Control announced on Saturday that a publicly funded H5N1 influenza vaccine will be made available through August 31 for people over 18 years old at high risk of infection.

CDC Deputy Director-General Chou Chih-hau said that people at high risk of H5N1 infection include airport security agents, disease control medical personnel, coast guardsmen and people traveling to epidemic areas. Chih-hau said that pregnant women should not receive the vaccine, the China Post reports.

Chih-hau said the high risk individuals can go to public health centers or hospitals to be vaccinated against H5N1 without paying fees.

"According to the World Health Organization's statistics, there have been 620 confirmed H5N1 cases worldwide since 2003 that led to 367 deaths," Chih-hau said, according to the China Post.

Between January 1 and February 28, Egypt, China and Cambodia recorded 12 confirmed H5N1 cases.

H5N1, also known as bird flu, started as an enzootic in many bird populations. Through gene mutation in recent years, the virus started jumping to humans after people came into contact with contagious birds.

In March 2012, Taiwan experienced a highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza outbreak and more than 75,000 chickens were killed to prevent the flu from spreading. At the time, Chih-hau said there was no public health risk of transmitting the avian flu between humans, the China Post reports.